I was told I might die: Brave girl, 18, describes growing up with the same condition as the Elephant Man
Katie’s mother suffers from a mild form of the same condition

Katie hopes to one day become an author

Future plans: Katie hopes to one day become an author

When Katie Newell was 15months old she was diagnosed with a rare condition that caused painful tumours to grow on the upper half of her body.

She was left unable to feed properly and her parents were told she was unlikely to survive past the age of five.

Katie Newell with her mother Vanessa. She suffers from tumours that are difficult to remove as they have such a rich blood supply

Katie Newell with her mother Vanessa. She suffers from tumours that are difficult to remove as they have such a rich blood supply

But the brave youngster battled through and after having several operations in the U.S, she has just celebrated her 18th birthday.

Speaking on ITV’s This Morning, the teenager from Chelmsford, revealed she had a difficult childhood as her severe case of neurofibromatosis had left her with disfiguring growths.

‘It was hard for me as children would whisper about me in the street’, she said.

‘The growths nearest my lungs affect me the most as I find walking or going up stairs difficult. I get tired.

‘Sometimes my condition scares me, like when I was 14 I was told I could die from an operation to remove a growth.’

Katie has neurofibromatosis – a genetic condition that causes multiple tumours which affect the nervous system. They are usually non-cancerous but can compress organs such as the lungs and cause facial weakness and deafness.

It is believed Joseph Merrick, also known as the Elephant Man, suffered from this condition along with proteus syndrome.

The growths include blood vessels and nerve endings and so are only tackled when they become life-threatening. Sometimes they grow back even once they’ve been removed.

Her mother Vanessa, who suffers from a very mild form of the same disease, said: ‘Once she got past five I decided we had to do something, rather than waiting for her to die.

‘So we raised money and went to America for surgery, because they tell you the risks of dying but also give you the choice.

‘Luckily Katie is very stubborn.’

Katie attended Chelmsford New Model Special School but found it tricky going on to an open college.

‘I felt more left out, as I’m different’ she said.

‘Katie realised she needed more help than other kids her age. They would be going to the shops, while she would be waiting for a taxi to take her home. She found it quite upsetting,’ her mother added.

However, Katie, who has received two child of courage awards, is determined to continue with her studies and wants to become an author.

‘Katie always says “I have neurofibromatosis but neurobiromatosis doesn’t have me”,’ her mother said.